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Public Interest Immunity Claims Proceeding

Context:

Recently, the Supreme Court of India ruled on the use of sealed cover proceedings in courts and the telecast ban of a Malayalam channel. The Court criticised the government for silencing voices in the media and reducing constitutional rights and procedural guarantees of a fair hearing. The Court also devised an alternative procedure for Public Interest Immunity claims proceedings to replace the use of sealed covers.

Relevance:

GS II: Indian Polity

Dimensions of the Article

  1. What is sealed cover Proceedings? 
  2. Public Interest Immunity Claims Proceeding

What is sealed cover Proceedings? 

  • It is a practice used by the Supreme Court and sometimes lower courts, of asking for or accepting information from government agencies in sealed envelopes that can only be accessed by judges.
  • While a specific law does not define the doctrine of sealed cover, the Supreme Court derives its power to use it from Rule 7 of order XIII of the Supreme Court Rules and Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872.
  • It is stated under the said rule that if the Chief Justice or court directs certain information to be kept under sealed cover or considers it of confidential nature, no party would be allowed access to the contents of such information, except if the Chief Justice himself orders that the opposite party be allowed to access it.

It also mentions that information can be kept confidential if its

  • Publication is not considered to be in the interest of the public.
  • As for the Evidence Act, official unpublished documents relating to state affairs are protected and a public officer cannot be compelled to disclose such documents.
  • Other instances where information may be sought in secrecy or confidence is when its publication impedes an ongoing investigation, such as details which are part of the police’s case diary; or breaches the privacy of an individual.

Public Interest Immunity Claims Proceeding

  • Supreme Court’s Alternative to Sealed Cover Proceedings: The Supreme Court developed Public Interest Immunity (PII) claims proceedings as an “alternative” to sealed cover proceedings for state requests for confidentiality.
PII Procedure – Role of Amicus Curiae:
  • The court appoints an amicus curiae to act as a bridge between the parties involved in public interest immunity claims. The amicus curiae will have access to the materials sought to be withheld by the state and allowed to interact with the applicant and their lawyer before the proceedings to ascertain their case.
  • The amicus curiae shall represent the interests of the applicant and be bound by oath to not disclose or discuss the material with any other person.
Drawback of PII Proceedings:
  • PII claims proceedings take place in a closed setting, which might fall against the constitutional mandate requiring all judgments of the Supreme Court to be delivered in open court.
Supreme Court’s Response:
  • The Supreme Court stated that a reasoned order allowing or dismissing the PII claim of the state should be pronounced in open court, despite PII proceedings taking place in a closed setting.
  • PII claims also impact the principles of natural justice, but sealed cover proceedings infringe on both the principles of natural justice and open justice.

Source: Indian Express


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